I'm leaving him, soon as these flowers die. Yesterday he brought home flowers, I don't know why. Gerbera daisies, bright pink, open-faced. Out of place.
I do my best, but this home sags with filth. Resentment, old as this marriage, sticks to doorknobs and window sills. It gums up the corners. When Gabe leaves for work, I climb the stairs to our attic bedroom and sit absolutely still. I listen to the crackle of dust sifting through air. The windows are all stuck shut.
How many days until the flowers die? I can't leave before then. Gabe won't remember to refresh the water. The stalks will collapse, scattering petals across the counter. Gabe won't remember the vase was a gift from his Aunt Lucy, that it's hand-wash only, or where it's kept. I just want out, I don't want a mess.
We made promises to each other, in the beginning, everyone does. I wanted to see the Temple of Kukulcan, Chichén Itzá, and Gabe said he'd take me. I wanted to climb its 365 steps, send 365 wishes up to the gods, the sun, whatever's up there. Gabe said he'd stick with prayers to God, capital G.
Gabe wanted five children, six—each filled to the brim with love and approval, as he and his brother weren't. I promised to try. No one can predict the wishes that won't be granted. Or how blame will be assigned.
The farthest south we ever got was Nassau, for our honeymoon, a hundred years ago. Gabe dozed beneath palms while I swam out far. I slipped beneath waves, eyes closed. I floated free in the ocean, let the tide push me around. Already I wondered if I could ever be content, held in place.
Every morning, I listen to Gabe's tires crunch down the gravel drive, then accelerate onto asphalt that brings him to the city, to the people in his life who make him laugh. Last time I saw his office was years ago. He's messy there, too, but it's happy chaos. Every night, the place is sanitized by professionals.
While Gabe's at work, I switch on the TV news, let the world's atrocities wash over me without paying much attention. When I run the vacuum, I don't bother to raise the volume. I'm okay, not hearing every detail, not knowing everything.
I spray Sage n' Citrus air freshener, a perfumed rain to bring down the dust. The hardwood in the hall goes sticky. The scent covers the staleness, but it can't disguise the disappointment, stuffed into these rooms so long it's soaked through carpet and curtains, paint and plaster, to the rotten studs holding this place up. Everything's shellacked with filmy silence.
When our only child left, everything he cared about in the bed of his truck, he was so eager his tires kicked up gravel. For weeks I picked pieces from dirt that once grew vegetables. I didn't tell Gabe.
I give the flowers five days, six tops. Then I'll go. Not Chichén Itzá—by now, my knees ache just looking at pictures. But somewhere. Until then I'll do my best. Any minute now I'll hear Gabe's tires turn back down our drive, slower this way. We won't talk much over dinner, having used up our words. In bed we'll sleep without touching, not hostile. Safe. All night long we'll inhale and exhale each other's breath, recycling the old filth of our life together. Both of us will store a bit of it, just enough to remember everything, deep in the dark of our two separate bodies.
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Originally published in Foundling Review, May 2012: http://www.foundlingreview.com/May2012Issue2Rukeyser.html
This story arrived as a single word: sticky. An early Spring triggered an onslaught of tree pollen. Seemingly overnight, everything was coated with a sticky yellow-green. Our windows were shut tight against it, but it found its way in. Allergies made my eyes sticky, too. I wrote for days, about the itch, the gummy surfaces, the stifling, closed-up house. Finally a hard rain fell. Everything outside was scrubbed clean. Inside, cleaning up was more complicated. I realized I was writing about an aspect of marriage: the burdensome comfort of containment. “Stuck Shut” is about the compromises we make in order to live peacefully. It’s about routines, how we cope. It’s about everything we stop talking about but don’t forget, the sticky memories that hold us.